First Vatican Council

The First Vatican Council (Latin: Concilium Vaticanum Primum) was convoked by Pope Pius IX on 29 June 1868, after a period of planning and preparation that began on 6 December 1864.[1] This, the twentieth ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, held three centuries after the Council of Trent, opened on 8 December 1869 and adjourned on 20 October 1870.[2] Unlike the five earlier general councils held in Rome, which met in the Lateran Basilica and are known as Lateran councils, it met in the Vatican Basilica, hence its name. Its best-known decision is its definition of papal infallibility.[3]

The council was convoked to deal with the contemporary problems of the rising influence of rationalism, liberalism, and materialism.[4] Its purpose was, besides this, to define the Catholic doctrine concerning the Church of Christ.[5] There was discussion and approval of only two constitutions: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith (Dei Filius) and the First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ (Pastor aeternus), the latter dealing with the primacy and infallibility of the Bishop of Rome.[5] The first matter brought up for debate was the dogmatic draft of Catholic doctrine against the manifold errors due to rationalism. The Council condemned rationalism, liberalism, naturalism and materialism. The Catholic Church was on the defensive against the main ideology of the XIX century.[6]

First Vatican Council
ROME 8 DECEMBRE 1869 cropped
Accepted byCatholic Church
Previous council
Council of Trent
Next council
Second Vatican Council
Convoked byPope Pius IX
PresidentPope Pius IX
TopicsRationalism, liberalism, materialism; inspiration of Scripture; papal infallibility
Documents and statements
Dei Filius, Pastor aeternus
Chronological list of ecumenical councils


This council was summoned by Pope Pius IX by a bull on 29 June 1868.[1] The first session was held in St. Peter's Basilica on 8 December 1869.[7] Preliminary sessions dealt with general administrative matters and committee assignments. Bishop Bernard John McQuaid complained of rainy weather, inadequate heating facilities and boredom.[8] Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley of Newark, New Jersey, noted the high prices in Rome.[8] When Lord Houghton asked Cardinal Manning what had been going on, he answered:

“Well, we meet, and we look at one another, and then we talk a little, but when we want to know what we have been doing, we read the Times”.[9]

Papal infallibility

The doctrine of papal infallibility was not new and had been used by Pope Pius in defining as dogma, in 1854, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus.[10] However, the proposal to define papal infallibility itself as dogma met with resistance, not because of doubts about the substance of the proposed definition, but because some considered it inopportune to take that step at that time.[10] Richard McBrien divides the bishops attending Vatican I into three groups. The first group, which McBrien calls the "active infallibilists", was led by Henry Edward Manning and Ignatius von Senestréy. According to McBrien, the majority of the bishops were not so much interested in a formal definition of papal infallibility as they were in strengthening papal authority and, because of this, were willing to accept the agenda of the infallibilists. A minority, some 10 per cent of the bishops, McBrien says, opposed the proposed definition of papal infallibility on both ecclesiastical and pragmatic grounds, because, in their opinion, it departed from the ecclesiastical structure of the early Christian church.[11] From a pragmatic perspective, they feared that defining papal infallibility would alienate some Catholics, create new difficulties for union with non-Catholics, and provoke interference by governments in ecclesiastical affairs.[12] Those who held this view included most of the German and Austro-Hungarian bishops, nearly half of the Americans, one third of the French, most of the Chaldaeans and Melkites, and a few Armenians.[12] Only a few bishops appear to have had doubts about the dogma itself.[12]

Dei Filius

On 24 April 1870, the dogmatic constitution on the Catholic faith Dei Filius was adopted unanimously. The draft presented to the council on 8 March drew no serious criticism, but a group of 35 English-speaking bishops, who feared that the opening phrase of the first chapter, "Sancta romana catholica Ecclesia" (the holy roman catholic Church), might be construed as favouring the Anglican branch theory, later succeeded in having an additional adjective inserted, so that the final text read: "Sancta catholica apostolica romana Ecclesia" (the holy catholic apostolic roman Church).[13] The constitution thus set forth the teaching of the "Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church" on God, revelation and faith.[14]

Pastor aeternus

Eclesiásticos de varios países reunidos en Roma con Motivo del Concilio
Ecclesiastics of several countries gathered in Rome for the council

There was stronger opposition to the draft constitution on the nature of the church, which at first did not include the question of papal infallibility,[4] but the majority party in the council, whose position on this matter was much stronger,[10] brought it forward. It was decided to postpone discussion of everything in the draft except infallibility.[10] The decree did not go forward without controversy; Cardinal Filippo Guidi, Archbishop of Bologna, proposed adding that the Pope is assisted by "the counsel of the bishops manifesting the tradition of the churches." The Pope rejected Guidi's view of the bishops as witnesses to the tradition, maintaining that "I am the tradition."[15]

On 13 July 1870, a preliminary vote on the section on infallibility was held in a general congregation: 451 voted simply in favour (placet), 88 against (non placet), and 62 in favour but on condition of some amendment (placet iuxta modum).[16] This made evident what the final outcome would be, and some 60 members of the opposition left Rome so as not to be associated with approval of the document. The final vote, with a choice only between placet and non placet, was taken on 18 July 1870, with 433 votes in favour and only 2 against defining as a dogma the infallibility of the pope when speaking ex cathedra.[4] The two votes in opposition were cast by Bishop Aloisio Riccio and Bishop Edward Fitzgerald.[17]

The dogmatic constitution states that the Pope has "full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church" (chapter 3:9); and that, when he

speaks ex cathedra, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals [chapter 4:9]

None of the bishops who had argued that proclaiming the definition was inopportune refused to accept it. Some Catholics, mainly of German language and largely inspired by the historian Ignaz von Döllinger, formed the separate Old Catholic Church in protest; von Döllinger did not formally join the new group.[18]


Engraving of First Vatican Council
Drawing showing the First Vatican Council

Discussion of the rest of the document on the nature of the church was to continue when the bishops returned after a summer break. However, in the meanwhile the Franco-Prussian War broke out. With the swift German advance and the capture of Emperor Napoleon III, French troops protecting papal rule in Rome withdrew from the city.

Consequently, on 20 September 1870, one month after the Kingdom of Italy had occupied Rome, Pope Pius IX, who then considered himself a prisoner in the Vatican, issued the bull Postquam Dei munere, adjourning the council indefinitely. While some proposed to continue the council in the Belgian city of Mechlin, it was never reconvened.[19] The council was formally closed in 1960, prior to the formation of the Second Vatican Council[20]

See also



  1. ^ a b Kirch 1912, p. 303.
  2. ^ Kirch 1912, p. 303; Nobili-Vitelleschi 1876, p. 1.
  3. ^ "Vatican Council, First" 2001.
  4. ^ a b c "First Vatican Council" 2014.
  5. ^ a b Tanner 1990.
  6. ^ Kirch 1912, p. 304.
  7. ^ Nobili-Vitelleschi 1876, p. 1; Tanner 1990.
  8. ^ a b "The First Vatican Council". America. 8 September 1962. Archived from the original on 15 September 2015. Retrieved 2 March 2018 – via Conciliaria.
  9. ^ Augustus Hare, The story of my life, Volume II (Dodd, Mead and Company, New York, 1896), at page 504
  10. ^ a b c d Burton & Woodruff 2014.
  11. ^ McBrien 1995, p. 1297.
  12. ^ a b c Kirch 1912, p. 305.
  13. ^ Lacoste 2004, p. 1666.
  14. ^ De Mattei 2004, p. 137.
  15. ^ Duffy 2014, loc. 5428–5439.
  16. ^ Hughes 1961, pp. 342, 362.
  17. ^ Hughes 1961, pp. 364, 381; Kirch 1912, p. 307.
  18. ^ Hennesey 2009.
  19. ^ Kirch 1912, p. 307.
  20. ^ "Vatican I". 22 May 2018. Retrieved 25 February 2019.


Burton, Ivor F.; Woodruff, Douglas (2014). "Pius IX". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
De Mattei, Roberto (2004). Pius IX. Translated by Laughland, John. Leominster, England: Gracewing.
Duffy, Eamon (2014). Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (4th ed.). New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11597-0.
"First Vatican Council". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2014. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
Hennesey, James (2009). "First Vatican Council". Encarta. Microsoft. Archived from the original on 31 October 2009. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
Hughes, Philip (1961). The Church in Crisis: A History of the General Councils, 325–1870. Garden City, New York: Hanover House. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
Kirch, J. M. Konrad (1912). "Vatican Council" . In Herbermann, Charles G.; Pace, Edward A.; Pallen, Condé B.; Shahan, Thomas J.; Wynne, John J. (eds.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 15. New York: The Encyclopedia Press (published 1913). pp. 303–309.
Lacoste, Jean-Yves (2004). "Vatican I, Council of". Encyclopedia of Christian Theology. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-57958-250-0.
McBrien, Richard P., ed. (1995). The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-065338-5.
Nobili-Vitelleschi, Francesco (1876). The Vatican Council: Eight Months at Rome during the Vatican Council. London: John Murray. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
Tanner, Norman P., ed. (1990). "First Vatican Council (1869–1870)". Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils. Retrieved 2 March 2018 – via EWTN.
"Vatican Council, First". The Columbia Encyclopedia (6th ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. 2001. Archived from the original on 18 June 2001. Retrieved 3 March 2018.

Further reading

Catalogo alfabetico degli eminentissimi cardinali, patriarchi, primati, arcivescovi, vescovi, abati generalí e generalí degli ordini religiosi presenti in Roma che hanno sede nel Concilio I° Ecumenico Vaticano aperto l'8 decembre 1869 con l'indicazone de' respettivi domicili aggiuntivi in fine i nomi degli officiali del concilio (in Italian). Rome: L'Osservatore Romano. 1869. Retrieved 2 March 2018.
De Cesare, Raffaele (1909). The Last Days of Papal Rome. Translated by Zimmern, Helen. London: Archibald Constable & Co.
Hales, E. E. Y. (1958). The Catholic Church in the Modern World: A Survey from the French Revolution to the Present. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Hasler, August Bernhard (1981). How the Pope Became Infallible: Pius IX and the Politics of Persuasion. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
Mirbt, Carl Theodor (1911). "Vatican Council, The" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. 27. New York: Encyclopædia Britannica. pp. 947–951.
Prusak, Bernard P. (2004). The Church Unfinished: Ecclesiology through the Centuries. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN 978-0-8091-4286-6.
Clement Bahouth

Clement Michael Bahouth (or Clement Bahous, 1799–1882), was patriarch of the Melkite Catholic Church from 1856 until his resignation in 1864.


Conciliarism was a reform movement in the 14th-, 15th- and 16th-century Catholic Church which held that supreme authority in the Church resided with an Ecumenical council, apart from, or even against, the pope. The movement emerged in response to the Western Schism between rival popes in Rome and Avignon. The schism inspired the summoning of the Council of Pisa (1409), which failed to end the schism, and the Council of Constance (1414–1418), which succeeded and proclaimed its own superiority over the Pope. Conciliarism reached its apex with the Council of Basel (1431–1449), which ultimately fell apart. The eventual victor in the conflict was the institution of the Papacy, confirmed by the condemnation of conciliarism at the Fifth Lateran Council, 1512–17. The final gesture however, the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, was not promulgated until the First Vatican Council of 1870.


Conciliarity is the adherence of various Christian communities to the authority of ecumenical councils and to synodal church government. It is not to be confused with conciliarism, which is a particular historical movement within the Catholic Church. Different churches interpret conciliarity different ways.

David William Bacon

David William Bacon (November 5, 1813 – 1874) was the first Roman Catholic bishop of Portland, Maine.

Edward Fitzgerald (bishop)

Edward Mary Fitzgerald (October 28, 1833—February 21, 1907) was an Irish-born prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Bishop of Little Rock from 1867 until his death in 1907.

Episcopal see

An episcopal see is, in the usual meaning of the phrase, the area of a bishop's ecclesiastical jurisdiction.Phrases concerning actions occurring within or outside an episcopal see are indicative of the geographical significance of the term, making it synonymous with diocese.The word see is derived from Latin sedes, which in its original or proper sense denotes the seat or chair that, in the case of a bishop, is the earliest symbol of the bishop's authority. This symbolic chair is also known as the bishop's cathedra, and is placed in the diocese principal church, which for that reason is called the bishop's cathedral, from Latin ecclesia cathedralis, meaning the church of the cathedra. The word throne is also used, especially in the Eastern Orthodox Church, both for the seat and for the area of ecclesiastical jurisdiction.The term "see" is also used of the town where the cathedral or the bishop's residence is located.

François Norbert Blanchet

François Norbert Blanchet (September 30, 1795 – June 18, 1883) was a French Canadian-born missionary priest and prelate of the Roman Catholic Church who was instrumental in establishing the Catholic Church presence in the Pacific Northwest. He was one of the first Catholic priests to arrive in what was then known as the Oregon Country and subsequently became the first bishop and archbishop of the Archdiocese of Oregon City (now known as the Archdiocese of Portland in Oregon).

Gregory II Youssef

Patriarch Gregory II Youssef, also known as Gregory II Hanna Youssef-Sayour (October 17, 1823 – July 13, 1897), was Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church from 1864 to 1897. Gregory expanded and modernized the church and its institutions and participated in the First Vatican Council, where he championed the rights of the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Gregory is remembered as a particularly dynamic patriarch of the Melkite Church. He is recognized as one of the forerunners of interconfessional dialogue and as an advocate for preserving the traditions and autonomy of the Melkites.

Jean-Baptiste Lamy

Jean-Baptiste Lamy (October 11, 1814 – February 13, 1888), was a French Roman Catholic prelate who served as the first Archbishop of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the United States. The American writer Willa Cather's novel Death Comes for the Archbishop is based on his life and career.

Lucien Bonaparte (cardinal)

Lucien Louis Joseph Napoléon Bonaparte, 4th Prince of Canino and Musignano (15 November 1828 – 19 November 1895), was a French cardinal.

Martin John Spalding

Martin John Spalding (May 23, 1810 – February 7, 1872) was an American prelate of the Roman Catholic Church. He served as Bishop of Louisville (1850-1864) and Archbishop of Baltimore (1864-1872). He advocated aid for freed slaves following the American Civil War. Spalding attended the First Vatican Council, where he first opposed, and then supported, a dogmatic proclamation of papal infallibility.


Neo-ultramontanism (or new ultramontanism) is the belief of certain Roman Catholics, primarily during the period immediately prior to the First Vatican Council, that papal infallibility was not restricted to a small number of papal statements but applied ipso facto (by virtue of being said by the Pope) to all papal teachings and statements.

Although few contemporary historians of the Roman Catholic Church distinguish between neo-ultramontanism and the more moderate ultramontanism of mainstream nineteenth-century Roman Catholicism, there were substantial differences between the two. The neo-ultramontanes wanted to pass by decree the most extreme definition of papal infallibility possible and did not wish for debates at all. They were, indeed, regarded as imprudent by more moderate ultramontanists who won the debate at the First Vatican Council.

Paolo Angelo Ballerini

Paolo Angelo Ballerini (14 September 1814 – 27 March 1897) was an Italian prelate who was named by Pope Pius IX as the Archbishop of Milan. He also served as the Latin Patriarch of Alexandria. His cause of canonization has begun and he is now a Servant of God.

Pastor aeternus

Pastor aeternus ("First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ", was issued by the First Vatican Council, July 18, 1870. The document defines four doctrines of the Catholic faith: the apostolic primacy conferred on Peter, the perpetuity of the Petrine Primacy in the Roman pontiffs, the meaning and power of the papal primacy, and Papal infallibility – infallible teaching authority (magisterium) of the Pope.

Pierre Dufal

Pierre Dufal, C.S.C. (November 8, 1822 – March 14, 1898) was a French-born bishop of the Catholic Church in Eastern Bengal and the United States. He served as the Vicar Apostolic of Eastern Bengal and as the Coadjutor Bishop of Galveston. He was also the Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Pope Pius IX

Pope Pius IX (Italian: Pio; 13 May 1792 – 7 February 1878), born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti (Italian: [dʒo'vanni ma'ri:a mas'tai fer'retti]), was head of the Catholic Church from 16 June 1846 to his death on 7 February 1878. He was the longest-reigning elected pope in the history of the Catholic Church, serving for over 31 years. During his pontificate, Pius IX convened the First Vatican Council (1869–70), which decreed papal infallibility, but the council was cut short owing to the loss of the Papal States.

Europe, including the Italian peninsula, was in the midst of considerable political ferment when the bishop of Imola, Giovanni Maria Cardinal Mastai-Ferretti, was elected pope. He took the name Pius, after his generous patron and the long-suffering prisoner of Napoleon, Pius VII. He had been elected by the faction of cardinals sympathetic to the political liberalization coursing across Europe, and his initial governance of the Papal States gives evidence of his own moderate sympathies; under his direction various sorts of political prisoners in the Papal States were released. A series of terrorist acts sponsored by Italian liberals and nationalists, which included the assassination of (among others) his Minister of the Interior, Pellegrino Rossi, and which forced Pius himself to briefly flee Rome in 1848, along with widespread revolutions in Europe, led to his growing skepticism towards the liberal, nationalist agenda. Through the 1850s and 1860s, Italian nationalists made military gains against the Papal States, which culminated in the seizure of the city of Rome in 1870 and the dissolution of the Papal States. Thereafter, Pius IX refused to accept the Law of Guarantees from the Italian government, which would have made the Holy See dependent on legislation that the Italian parliament could modify at any time. Pius refused to leave Vatican City, declaring himself a "prisoner of the Vatican". His ecclesiastical policies towards other countries, such as Russia, Germany or France, were not always successful, owing in part to changing secular institutions and internal developments within these countries. However, concordats were concluded with numerous states such as Austria-Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Canada, Tuscany, Ecuador, Venezuela, Honduras, El Salvador, and Haiti.

Pius was a Marian pope, who in his encyclical Ubi primum emphasized Mary's role in salvation. In 1854, he promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, articulating a long-held Catholic belief that Mary, the Mother of God, was conceived without original sin. He conferred the title Our Mother of Perpetual Help on a famous Byzantine icon from Crete entrusted to the Redemptorists. In 1862, he convened 300 bishops to the Vatican for the canonization of Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan.

His 1864 Syllabus of Errors stands as a strong condemnation against liberalism, modernism, moral relativism, secularization, and separation of church and state. Pius definitively reaffirmed Catholic teaching in favor of the establishment of the Catholic faith as the state religion in nations where the majority of the population is Catholic. However, his most important legacy is the First Vatican Council, convened in 1869, which defined the dogma of papal infallibility, but was interrupted as Italian nationalist troops threatened Rome. The council is considered to have contributed to a centralization of the church in the Vatican, while also clearly defining the Pope's doctrinal authority.

Many recent ecclesiastical historians and journalists question his approaches. His appeal for public worldwide support of the Holy See after he became "the prisoner of the Vatican" resulted in the revival and spread to the whole Catholic Church of Peter's Pence, which is used today to enable the Pope "to respond to those who are suffering as a result of war, oppression, natural disaster, and disease". After his death in 1878, his canonization process was opened on 11 February 1907 by Pope Pius X, and it drew considerable controversy over the years. It was closed on several occasions during the pontificates of Pope Benedict XV and Pope Pius XI. Pope Pius XII re-opened the cause on 7 December 1954, and Pope John Paul II proclaimed him Venerable on 6 July 1985. He was beatified on 3 September 2000 after the recognition of a miracle. Pius IX was assigned the liturgical feast day of 7 February, the date of his death.

Second Vatican Council

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly known as the Second Vatican Council or Vatican II, addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. The council, through the Holy See, was formally opened under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and was closed under Pope Paul VI on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1965.

Several changes resulted from the council, including the renewal of consecrated life with a revised charism, ecumenical efforts towards dialogue with other religions, and the universal call to holiness, which according to Pope Paul VI was "the most characteristic and ultimate purpose of the teachings of the Council".According to Pope Benedict XVI, the most important and essential message of the council is "the Paschal Mystery as the center of what it is to be Christian and therefore of the Christian life, the Christian year, the Christian seasons". Other changes which followed the council included the widespread use of vernacular languages in the Mass instead of Latin, the subtle disuse of ornate clerical regalia, the revision of Eucharistic (liturgical) prayers, the abbreviation of the liturgical calendar, the ability to celebrate the Mass versus populum (with the officiant facing the congregation), as well as ad orientem (facing the "East" and the Crucifix), and modern aesthetic changes encompassing contemporary Catholic liturgical music and artwork. Many of these changes remain divisive among the Catholic faithful.Of those who took part in the council's opening session, four have become popes: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who on succeeding John XXIII took the name Pope Paul VI; Bishop Albino Luciani, the future Pope John Paul I; Bishop Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II; and Joseph Ratzinger, present as a theological consultant, who became Pope Benedict XVI.In the 1950s, theological and biblical studies in the Catholic Church had begun to sway away from the Neo-Scholasticism and biblical literalism which a reaction to Catholic modernism had enforced since the First Vatican Council. This shift could be seen in theologians such as Karl Rahner, Michael Herbert, and John Courtney Murray who looked to integrate modern human experience with church principles based on Jesus Christ, as well as others such as Yves Congar, Joseph Ratzinger and Henri de Lubac, who looked to an accurate understanding of scripture and the early Church Fathers as a source of renewal (ressourcement).

At the same time, the world's bishops faced challenges driven by political, social, economic, and technological change. Some of these bishops sought new ways of addressing those challenges. The First Vatican Council had been held nearly a century before but had been cut short in 1870 when the Italian Army entered the city of Rome at the end of Italian unification. As a result, only deliberations on the role of the papacy and the congruent relationship of faith and reason were completed, with examination of pastoral issues concerning the direction of the Church left unaddressed.Pope John XXIII, however, gave notice of his intention to convene the Council on 25 January 1959, less than three months after his election in October 1958. This sudden announcement, which caught the Curia by surprise, caused little initial official comment from Church insiders. Reaction to the announcement was widespread and largely positive from both religious and secular leaders outside the Catholic Church, and the council was formally summoned by the apostolic constitution Humanae Salutis on 25 December 1961. In various discussions before the Council convened, John XXIII said that it was time to "open the windows [of the Church] and let in some fresh air". He invited other Christians outside the Catholic Church to send observers to the Council. Acceptances came from both the Eastern Orthodox Church and Protestant denominations as internal observers, but these observers did not cast votes in the approbation of the conciliar documents.

Thaddeus Amat y Brusi

Thaddeus Amat y Brusi, C.M. (Catalan: Tadeu Amat i Brusi) (December 31, 1810 – May 12, 1878), was a Roman Catholic cleric who became the first Bishop of Los Angeles, California.


Ultramontanism is a clerical political conception within the Catholic Church that places strong emphasis on the prerogatives and powers of the Pope.

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